Calf and heifer management -- a paradigm shift

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King Hickman, consultant with GPS Dairy Consulting LLC, discussed current dairy herd management recommendations at the 2014 I-29 Dairy Conference in Sioux Falls, SD. Regarding calves and heifers, Hickman said days on feed and calving age significantly impact a dairy’s profit or loss, because raising replacements is a large cost center of any dairy.

He noted that improvements in pregnancy rates, calves born alive, calf rearing, heifer breeding and housing – along with sexed semen – have created “extra” heifers or “more investment” for many herds.

Hickman noted that today’s calf- and heifer-rearing goals and priorities have shifted.  He shared the following “paradigm shifts” between the old and new ways of approaching replacement rearing: 

Old                                                   New 

8-10 % DOA’s                                   <4-5% DOA’s

2 quarts colostrum                             3-4 quarts colostrum

Check colostrum quality                   Check blood proteins

1 lb. milk replacer/day                      2% of body weight in milk solids/day

Wean when eating 1.5 lbs. starter    Weaning weight is double birth-weight @ 8 weeks

Calf loss <5% of wet calves                 Calf loss <2-3% of wet calves

Accelerated milk replacer                    Pasteurized milk

Avoid higher ADG on young calves    Preweaned calves growing in excess of 2 lbs./day

Avoid ADG > 1.8-1.9 lbs.                     1.8 – 2.2 lbs./day gain readily achieved

Survival to 6 Mo often <85%               Survival to 6 Mo often >90%

Breed @ 14-15 Mo                               Breed based on size & stature

Bull breeding common                         AI breeding common

Pregnancy Rate <30%                         Pregnancy Rate>37%

Raise all heifers born alive                  Chosen genetics after birth

The consultant suggested these questions to consider when determining an operation’s replacement-rearing priorities:

1. Does it make economic sense to raise all heifers – considering time-value of the investment?

2. Which heifers should make your dairy team?

3. Can overall rearing costs be reduced by actually spending more on raising wet calves?

4. What are the best performance metrics for calves & heifers?



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